Regional Programs > Israel & Palestine > Next Story

 About moral backbone
 Gila Svirsky, Israel
 March 3, 2002

So who's winning? It's been a blood-soaked weekend: Since Thursday, Israeli army killed 26 Palestinians in refugee camps (and 230 wounded), and Palestinian extremists killed 20 Israelis (and dozens wounded). Add that together and you have a staggering amount of heartache, on either side. Everybody's losing.

Children on both sides, needless to say, were also killed. A light has gone out, permanently, for these families.

As I watched the ultra-Orthodox walk around the area of the bomb in Jerusalem scraping stray bits of flesh off the sidewalk for later burial, two Israeli commentators explained that this bomb was revenge for the attack on the refugee camps. This morning's radio news, however, carried only the government spin: The Palestinian bombing in Jerusalem last night would have taken place whether or not the Israeli army had invaded the refugee camps. What are they saying? Answer: That our killing has no relationship whatsoever with their killing. A theory of cause and no effect.

Do Sharon and his government actually believe that brutality will convince the Palestinians to give up? Do the Palestinian extremists actually believe that suicide bombings will convince Israelis to leave the region? There is little evidence to support the unusual theory of human nature held by either side.

Meanwhile, on the Israeli side, more and more people have begun to despair of the deepening sea of blood:

* Sharon's popularity rating, as measured by the polls, has dipped under 50% for the first time since his election. Smelling opportunity, a group of powerful businessmen and semi-political academics are brewing a new political party, intended to present a liberal alternative to the current Likud-Labor regime (liberal in the original sense— capitalist, pro-peace—it's good for business—and quasi-democratic, meaning that women, Mizrahim, and minorities are excluded so far—to be welcomed when the electoral blunder is brought to their attention).

* The Saudi Arabian peace initiative is a wonderful opportunity. Although Sharon will easily sidestep it politically, my hope is that his determination to brush it off will expose him to more Israelis as "not a partner for peace"—unwilling to negotiate territorial compromise of significance, even in exchange for Israel's lifelong dream: peace with all its neighbors.

* Israeli peace organizations and human rights movements have intensified their activity—marches, vigils, ads in papers, public campaigns. A peace march last night organized by Peace Now, but attended by members of many other peace organizations, continued its rally, despite the bodies exploding a few streets away, the speakers stating boldly and courageously, in the Israeli reality, that the root of the violence is the brutal Israeli occupation. In a few hours, another rally with the same message will take place in Tel Aviv.

* The number of Israeli combat officers and soldiers who refuse to serve the occupation has risen above 300, and continues to shake the foundations of belief that Israel has been engaged in an "enlightened occupation". The army has launched a campaign to delegitimize them, so far jailing two, but voices in support have also been sounded.

I'll close with one such voice—an excerpt from an op-ed in today's Ha'aretz newspaper written by Michael Ben-Yair, Israel's Attorney General from 1993 to 1996, on the subject of occupation and whether or not the soldiers who refuse to serve in the army are indeed lawbreakers:

"...This is a harsh reality that is causing us to lose the moral base of our existence as a free, just society and to jeopardize Israel's long-range survival. Israel's security cannot be based only on the sword; it must rather be based on our principles of moral justice and on peace with our neighbors—those living next door and those living a little further away. An occupation regime undermines those principles of moral justice and prevents the attainment of peace. Thus, that regime endangers Israel's existence.

...It is against this background that one must view the refusal of IDF reservist officers and soldiers to serve in the territories. In their eyes, the occupation regime is evil and military service in the occupied territories is evil. In their eyes, military service in the occupied territories, which places soldiers in situations forcing them to commit immoral acts, is evil, and, according to their conscience, they cannot be party to such acts. Thus, their refusal to serve is an act of conscience that is justified and recognized in every democratic regime. History's verdict will be that their refusal was the act that restored our moral backbone."

May it restore our moral backbone, amen.

Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace and human rights activist.